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Hochul says religious exemption not a reason to avoid COVID vaccine, imposes new mask mandates

Gov. Kathy Hochul, wearing blue, announces a new mask mandate for day care and child care centers.
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul announces a new mask mandate for day care and child care centers Wednesday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul says she does not believe healthcare workers in New York should be able to cite a religious exemption to avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The governor, who held a briefing on the status of the coronavirus in the state Wednesday, was reacting to a court decision temporarily upholding the rights of some healthcare workers to refuse the vaccine on religious grounds.

A federal judge in Utica Tuesday issued what’s known as a temporary restraining order against the portion of the state’s vaccine mandate that does not allow for religious exemptions.

Hochul says her health department deliberately excluded religious exemptions from the mandate, which requires all healthcare workers to be vaccinated by Sept. 27. She says while the state’s attorneys will be arguing the case in court on Sept. 28, her personal opinion is that a religious exemption is not a legitimate excuse.

“I’m not aware of a sanctioned religious exemption from any organized religion, in fact they are encouraging the opposite,” Hochul said. “Everybody from the Pope on down is encouraging people to get vaccinated.”

Hochul says New Yorkers have the right to receive health care without worrying that the person attending them might be unvaccinated and more likely to spread the virus.

The governor, saying that she is concerned about the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, also imposed new mask mandates for day care and child care centers. Everyone aged two years old and up will have to wear them, effective immediately, regardless of their vaccination status

“If you’re watching the national news, the scariest announcements coming out every morning are the number of children contracting COVID,” said Hochul, who said a vaccine won’t be available for those under 12 for several more months.

Masks will also be required at congregate state-run health-related programs, including mental health and addiction services.

Hochul says she is also authorizing the state’s 50,000 EMTs to be able to administer the vaccine to avoid an expected shortage of workers when the booster shots become availed later in the fall. She says that could add at least 2,000 more staff able to offer doses.

The governor is leaving the details of how to distribute the booster shots to local health officials, who complained earlier in the pandemic that they were left out of the process in favor of a state-run mass vaccination system. Hochul criticized those policies, enacted by her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal.

“And now that we’re not mandating that it was all state-run facilities and only state-run employees, we are actually involving the local individuals who were shunted off to the side, there are a lot more people engaged in this ” she said.

Hochul says local health departments, who have said they can run vaccinations better than the state, are on notice to carry out the task competently. The state is providing $65 million dollars to aid the efforts.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.